20 Years After Marcos

I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter From Asia comes from Manila.

A history lesson from the Philippines. How much can a country change when the hunger for change comes from the people themselves? Who take to the streets by the tens of thousands and risk their lives?

That's what happened here in February 20 years ago. They called it people power, because that was the only weapon they had – their very bodies. They used their bodies to stand up the guns of the Philippine military…and the dictator who controlled the army.

Remember him…Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe-loving wife, Imelda. They had ruled the country with an iron fist. When events began spiraling out of his control, no one was more surprised than Marcos himself. When the military sided with the people he and Imelda beat a midnight retreat to Hawaiian exile.

Twenty years on…how has the country done? It's a question we asked newspaper columnist Nelson Navarro.

"We're back to square one," said Navarro. "We back to the streets fighting for a better life, fighting for a democracy, fighting for economic progress. It's as if it was all a dream."

The military remains a restive force, like a hungry lion on a frayed leash…with several coup attempts to its credit and constant rumors of another one in the works. With one former president doing time for corruption and the current president accused of stealing her last election, politics remains a mess.

Why is that?

"Because I think the struggle was hijacked very early in the game," Navarro answered. "The people who fought and took over from Marcos didn't know quite what to do, other than get rid of him. And when they got rid of him, they went back to the same old ways."

But this is the hard part of the story…the poorest of the people who were the backbone of people power. They believed that their heroism would earn them a better life, a way out of the hovels that crowd the railroad tracks and spread across Manila.

It is sad to say it…but we deal in honesty here…they were wrong.
By Barry Petersen